New Year In October: Hitachino Nest New Year Celebration Ale 2004

Hitachino Nest New Year Celebration Ale 2004 (Bottle 9% ABV)- Belgian Strong Dark Ale- Kiuchi Brewery, JAP
I’ll be honest I’m a sucker for label art and this bright orange sunburst with a crazed beer and fan wielding Japanese dude jumping at me pretty demanded I buy it. I’ve had a few other Hitachino beers and have never been letdown so how could I say no to their red and white Woodsy Owl-looking minimalist doppelganger. Plus the with the “2004” tag why not try something vintage that I don’t have to age for 4 years myself.
The label says it’s brewed with coriander, orange peel, nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla so right off the bat I know to expect something with a spicy character and the Celebration ’04 has that without being in your face. It pours a rich nut brown with a respectably frothy tan head to start that settles into a nice covering that remains constant. Not much lacing to speak of. I didn’t notice the sediment on the bottom of the bottle and made the mistake of not carefully decanting into the glass so it was looking pretty murky. It smells of autumnal fruit and a sweet breadiness as well as the cinnamon and nutmeg spice. There’s some alcohol in the nose, but it’s well masked by the spice. The taste is of a winter warmer type ale; nutmeg and cinnamon at the fore with malt supporting it. The first few sips are a bit hot with booze which seems to lessen for a while until the last quarter when it has warmed to room temp. There’s a touch of apple-like tartness which combined with the spiciness begins to taste more than a little like a mulled cider. It finishes with some slight bitterness around the edges. The body is good with an added zing from peppy carbonation.
Generally, New Year Celebration Ale 2004 is a tasty brew, but seems to be missing something in the middle that would put it over the top. Maybe when it was fresh the vanilla and orange peel would have popped and filled the gap, but at this point I couldn’t find a hint of them. Generally, winter warmer type ales are not my favorite, but given the balance and softness of the flavors in the Celebration ’04 I really enjoyed it. If you are a fan of less aggressive warmers and can find this it’s certainly worth a try. I’ve got two spare bottles sitting in my cellar, but I’m not sure if putting much more time on this would help or if this vintage is already on the downhill slide. To be honest I enjoyed the first bottle enough they might not last through this winter for me. They’ll be tempting to curl up with during one of the many cold New England winter evenings that lay ahead.
(Purchased 10/29: Federal Wine & Spirits $3.25, 330ml)

Drie Fonteinen Doesjel: Intensely Sour

For those unfamiliar, gueuze is a blend of young and old spontaneously fermented lambic beer which is then bottle fermented. Gueuze tends to be given to a sour or tart flavor profile, and seems a bit more like a wine than a beer.  Lambics and gueuzes are admittedly styles that are an acquired taste. And I am still very much in the acquiring stages so my evaluations of such beers may be skewed given my lack of familiarity.

Drie Fonteinen Doesjel (bottle 6% ABV)- Gueuze- Brouwerij Drie Fonteinen, BEL
Grade: C


Drie Fonteinen pours a slightly murky amber-tinged gold with very little carbonation. There’s a full, but not overpowering barnyard funk in the nose, which is interesting and not unpleasant: twang of wet hay with some light hints of fruit and something vaguely musky. A coppery metallic edge comes to the scent that is not so nice and hinting at vinegar. A warning of what lies ahead perhaps?

The taste runs along similar lines. At first there’s a quick fruitiness at the tip of the tongue; a hint of green apple. It disappears briefly into a nice tang and all too quickly slides to acidity that is similar to cider vinegar. At points I want to say there’s a smokiness to the flavor, but then often times it seems more acrid, burning rubber than smokey. In a very short time Drie Fonteinen goes from something different and interesting to something I never want to drink again.

On the up side the mouthfeel is good. It’s not thin and not thick covering the tongue quite well. It’s just a shame that the taste it’s conveying the tongue with is less than good. It was a struggle to finish the small bottle, so I have no choice but to view the drinkability as very low. It wasn’t a drain pour so I can’t rate it that low, but still after the first quarter it was a chore to drink.

I’ll be honest I haven’t had tons of experience with lambics and gueuzes, but I’ve had enough that I know that this is some rough stuff even for a gueuze. When the guy at the store referred to Drie Fonteinen as “intense” I didn’t expect that to mean sour to the point of being almost undrinkable. Maybe I just don’t have the palate for it. If you a sour fiend then maybe this would be right up your alley.


(Purchased 10/17: Federal Wine & Spirits $6.99, 37.5cl bottle)

10/19 Beer Brunch at UpStairs On The Square

Back last Sunday (10/19) at UpStairs on the Square over in Harvard Square BeerAdvocate sponsored a 4 course brunch of “southern-style soul food w/ a twist” where each course was paired up with a beer specially chosen for the dish. Amazingly, this was the first official beer/food pairing I’d ever attended. Man, was it a good start.

1st Course: Cheesy grits and bacon paired with Avery 14’er ESB
I’ve never had grits before and if this is what I’ve been missing I’ll be moving down south tomorrow. Sadly, I’m guessing traditional grits are not dosed with shredded cheese and smoked bacon so looks like another Boston winter for me. Avery’s ESB was a great pairing with it’s easy going hop bitterness to cut the richness of the grits. It had a decent malt backbone with kept the hops from over powering everything.

2nd Course: Shrimp étouffée egg dish with a side of collard greens and corn bread paired with Neumarketer Lammsbrau Pilsner

This was a curious little dish. Sort of a creole take on eggs Benedict. A poached egg and collard greens were set atop of a big square of cornbread with all of it doused in a spicy, shrimp-laden sauce. As tasty as the dish was the Lammsbrau Pilsner that accompanied it wowed me more which was surprising given that pilsners aren’t usually the type of beer that bowls me over. This organic German pilsner was flavorful in an almost floral way with a crisp finish and a bright feel. Apparently it’s not all to easy to get a hold of around Boston, but I’ll be in search of it.

3rd Course: Chicken and waffles with a side of mac’n’cheese paired with Southampton Pumpkin Ale

Finally, the much talked about chicken and waffles, which according to some discussion around the room this version was a bit different in that it was served with gravy. Apparently, it’s more common with syrup. I can understand why you would use syrup, but really I think that would have been too much especially with the Southampton Pumpkin Ale. Given that the beer is on the malty and sweet side I think syrup would have made the whole thing a bit cloying. But the savory gravy and the chicken balanced out the sweetness in the waffle and the beer. All the ingredients were playing nicely in this dish. The mac’n’cheese was simple and tasty, but was almost an after thought for me. I think the little custard dish it came in would have been better served filled with a side of gravy because even though the chicken was moist and juicy the waffle was on the dry side, tasty though it was.

4th Course: Bourbon pecan pie with vanilla ice cream paired with Southern Tier Crème Brûlée Imperial Milk Stout

In all honesty I could have cared less about the pecan pie only because it’s never been a favorite of mine. All I really wanted was Southern Tier’s Crème Brûlée. The pie was rich and buttery; plenty tasty with a dollop of vanilla ice cream that tasted like it might have had a bit of spice in it. They had nothing on the Southern Tier. And to answer your question: Yes, it does taste like crème brûlée. It was like having a second desert. The conversation around the table wondered how exactly the beer came about. Was it a case of someone at the brewery having the idea of specifically brewing a crème brûlée beer or was it simply an experiment to create an imperial milk stout and the end result just happened to taste like crème brûlée? We leaned towards the happy accident theory. Regardless, this is an amazing beer for those who can handle the sweetness. If you do pick up a bottle be sure to have a friend or two to share with as it only comes in 22oz. bombers and there’s no way one person should or could consume an entire bottle on their own.

All in all it was an amazing meal. Great food, great beers, and lots of great conversation. I would highly recommend attending any future beer events there if you have the chance. It looks like the next one is going to be a beer dinner November 19th themed: From Russia with Love. Take a guess on the food and beer to be served? If you go be sure to speak the entire time à la Sean Connery in Red October.

“One ping only.”

Sean & Alec

Za vas!

A Real Cherry Of A Beer

Echte Kriekenbier (6.8% ABV bottle)- Flanders Red- AleBrouwerij Verhaeghe, BEL
Grade: B

I managed to snag a bottle of this as one of the perks of volunteering at BeerAdvocate‘s Return of The Belgian Beer Fest that happened a few weeks ago. (I know, I know I’m behind on giving and update on it. Fingers crossed this weekend I’ll get y’all just a snippet of what I managed to sample.)

Pours out dark ruby red, not unlike cranberry juice with a light pink head that foams up quickly and disappears just as quickly –think champagne with a slightly richer head– though a thin layer of foam does remain throughout.

You can smell the cherries as soon as you pour. There’s a bit of a sour tang underneath. Not unsurprisingly Echte Kriekenbier tastes a lot like it smells. At first there’s a tartness that’s pushed aside by a blast of sweet fruit juiciness followed up by a bolt of sour dryness. The carbonation is lively which helps to give it a bright mouthfeel. This is a nice tasting little beer, but not what you could call complex.

If you are looking for a gateway beer into the world of sour beers –Flanders Reds and the like– this is a good place to start. It gives you an easy going tartness that’s not too sharp or acidic and rewards you with lots of sweet cherry. For the accustomed sour fiend this might be enjoyable if a bit on the pedestrian side. Overall though, it’s pretty darn drinkable if you have even the slightest penchant for something in a sour.


BeerAdvocate’s Return of the Belgian Beer Fest!

Been sitting around wondering how it would be possible to spend 4 hours sampling a ridiculous amount of Belgian and Belgian-inspired beers?

Of course you have!

Here is the answer to your quandry: BeerAdvocate‘s Return of the Belgian Beer Fest Sept 26 & 27!

From the BA email blast–

The Belgian Beer Fest, Returns!
Save these dates for “The Return of the Belgian Beer Fest!” in Boston, MA.

Fri, Sep 26 = Night of the Funk
50+ handpicked funk-a-licious beers, plus guest speakers and delicious food. $50 per person; all inclusive. Limited to ~600 tickets.

Sat, Sep 27 = Sessions One & Two
100+ beers from here and there, guest speaker panels, and two sessions. $40 per session; includes tastings and education. Limited to 1,000 tickets per session.

Tickets are on-sale now and are going fast! We don’t expect tickets to be available online by the end of August.

BBF will be a great chance to meet-up with other BeerAdvocates in the flesh as our fests welcome thousands of attendees, many of whom are BAs. So we hope to see you there!

Held at The Cyclorama at The Boston Center for the Arts on September 26 & 27, 2008 and is proudly supported by Duvel Moortgat and Boston’s Weekly Dig.

To buy tickets and for more info:

Respect Beer.

Jason & Todd Alström

BA fests always rock and more importantly always sellout at the Cyclorama. So get your tickets soon.

I’ll be volunteering at the Friday & Saturday night sessions. Come by say “hi” and remind me to update my blog more often.

Prost! -John

Everybody needs a 303

Located a quick stroll from the Maverick T stop on the blue line, 303 Café seems like it’d be more suited in the South End or on Newbury as opposed to East Boston. With its exposed brick walls adorned with local artwork and the resin encased mosaic table tops this little bistro has a cozy and welcoming feel to it. What is more surprising than its location is the fact that they’ve got amazing food and a tasty beer list.

The beer list is small and limited to bottles, but still respectable. They’ve got a dozen regulars to choose from including Beamish Stout, La Fin Du Monde, Hennepin, Chimay Red, Julius Echter Hefe and Loose Cannon IPA. Plus they have rotating specials, which have recently included Pork Slap Ale, Whales Tale Pale Ale, Weihenstephan Hefeweiss, Old Speckled Hen, Small Craft Warning Uber Pilsner, and Bitburger Pils. Cost wise you’re looking at between $5-$7 a bottle, though the majority are $5. On a beer related side note: They’re starting to do beer dinners, though I haven’t had a chance to hit one up, but it’s on the to do list.

Oh, and they’ve got food too. Man alive do they have food.

I’ve eaten here half a dozen times and have never had a bad dish; breakfast, lunch, or dinner. This past Friday (8/22) my fiancé and I made our way there where they were screening Crash on their big screen TV. I had the 303 chicken burrito (gigantic and tasty) with a Julius Echter and an Uber Pils, my fiancé had the grilled flank steak (melt in your mouth amazing) with Hennepin, and for an app we shared the Middle Eastern antipasto (big enough for a meal in and of itself). We topped it all off with the peanut butter cup cookie. Top to bottom the food was fantastic. Prices are about what you expect to pay $8-ish for sandwiches $12 and up for the dinner entrees. Service was good and the atmosphere was nice and relaxed. This place makes for a great date locale.

I can’t speak to the wait staff’s knowledge of the beers as I’m at least functionally familiar with everything they have, but they are always timely with checking to make sure glasses don’t go empty and quick with service.

I highly recommend 303 Café. Go for the food stay for the beer. They use their flat screen for movie nights and for bigger sports events and they usually have beer and food specials that tie into the film or game, but it’s not like it’s always on. It’s a pretty small place and can fill up pretty quickly, especially if you are trying for brunch, in which case I would suggest getting there before 10am. All in all it’s a fun little café that I’m glad I’ve been introduced to as a local dining option outside of the standard Italian and South American offerings of the area.

If you live on the blue line you should head on down to 303 because it’s got some of the best food in the area and a beer menu that, small though it may be, beats any bar’s selection from Maverick to Revere. Tuesday nights are “International Hops Night” where they feature a new beer and usually a food pairing. If you are in from out of town and trapped at one of the airport hotels, 303 is only one T stop away and very much worth the quick trip to escape the purgatory of overpriced room service food.

Kanpai! -John

Quick Hits: Summer ‘08.1

Just some quick notes on beverages that I have come across during this early part of summer.

Mirassou Pinot Noir
I know this is for the most part a beer blog and I don’t know much about wine, but I had to make note of it. Me and my fiancé split a bottle of this with some grilled steak and summer squash. Nice and velvety body with lots of dark fruit sweetness, but it still managed to finish on the dry side of things. Not very acidic at all, so it’s a very approachable noir. I suppose if you prefer a more biting and peppery red this won’t be for you. If, however, you are looking for an affordable red that’s bright with fruit seek out the Mirassou. Neither of us remember buying it so it must have been a leftover from one of our gatherings. Regardless of origins it was a great pinot noir we’ll be seeking out again.

Nøgne Ø Saison
Late one night whilst playing some Ratchet & Clank on PS2 I needed something to take the edge of and keep me from yelling at the TV so I broke this out. Nice rich body with plenty of Belgian yeast tang. It had big floral notes that made me think of jasmine tea. Good stuff, but seemed a bit robust and citrusy for a saison. Maybe I was just wanting something a bit more subtle. Nonetheless, I did like it and will be picking up another bottle at some point to do a proper review. This is the second brew I’ve had from Nøgne Ø and I’m glad I stumbled upon this Norwegian upstart brewery.

Sebago Boathouse Brown
I haven’t had Sebago since last summer’s BeerAdvocate American Beer Fest and we’ll just my memory of it is hazy non-existent beyond really liking their stylized logo. I was up in Maine for a birthday shindig at a little place called Holly’s Own Deli & Wine Bar and they happened to have Boathouse Brown on tap. Good medium body, slightly cloudy brown color. It was a bit sweeter brown than one might be used to if you are a Newcastle drinker, but it’s still balanced with a little bit of bitterness. There were some notes of what I could only call graham crackers in there that had me back for seconds. I enjoyed it a lot and so it looks like I’ll be forced to find some here in Boston. You should look for some near you if you are in New England. And if you find yourself in Auburn, ME head over to Holly’s; the food is tasty and the staff is very friendly.

Weyerbacher Alpha and Muse
Had these from growlers at a Jack-n-Jill baby shower back in my hometown in Jersey and I’m not sure what to make of either of these. Maybe it was the 2 or 3 cans of Yuengling I’d already knocked back during two embarrassing quoit (for the uninitiated it’s pronounced: kw-ATE) matches, but neither Alpha nor Muse struck me as being as appealing as I’ve found most Weyerbacher brews. Alpha is a one time only release that’s a Belgian Pale Ale hopped with with Amarillo and Cascade. It just tasted odd. The aggressive American hops and the richness of Belgian yeast was a taste combination that I just couldn’t get my mind around. I kept wanting to seperate them so that I could have an IPA or a Belgian Ale, not both at the same time. Muse is Weyerbacher’s farmhouse ale and I definitely thought it was more enjoyable than the Alpha. Still, like the Nøgne Ø Saison, it seemed a bit on the citrusy side. Maybe I’m wrong on what to expect from the style. [I’ve got some other saisons sitting at home wait for an appropriate time to crack them open and do some side by side comparing.] In the end neither beer was bad, but I was glad there was 4 of us splitting the growlers. Meh. It won’t keep me from going back to Weyerbacher.

The Lobby Of What, Now?

     Don’t be fooled by the name, The Lobby is neither attached to a hotel nor in the lobby of a building. I’m not sure what the story is behind that. What I do know is that it is a slick little bar down in the financial district on Broad St.

     The clientèle is late-twenties to late-thirties professional guys and gals looking for a place that’s a little different and isn’t packed after work to standing room only like The Times, J.A. Stats, or Mr. Dooley’s all within a stones throw of The Lobby. Prices for food and drinks aren’t cheap, but they aren’t bank-breaking either. Given the neighborhood the prices are about what you would expect; across the board from apps to booze the prices are maybe a buck or two above their competition.

     How could a bar in that area not be a sardine can on a weeknight, you ask? A smart interior layout is the answer.

     Across the front are floor to ceiling windows that open onto the street with three or four two-seat tables situated in front of them. Along the right wall is a long cushioned bench seat that stretches back to the bar with a few more tables and chairs in front of it. On the left side is a sitting area with a few low chairs, ottomans, and low tables situated so that it could be a large open social arena or broken into two smaller areas. Across the back wall was the bar which had six, maybe eight, high stools.

     The space between the bar and the fireplace sitting area really only allowed enough standing room behind the bar stools to be one person deep. I suppose you could get two deep, but you better be well acquainted with the person you’re squeezed in with to do it. Beyond that small space at the bar there is no standing room. The rest of the open space is simply the path from the bar past the tables to the door. The waitresses and waiters had no problem making it known that people were not to be standing in that path. So even though the night my friends and I were there The Lobby was at capacity it was still an enjoyable experience with plenty of breathing room.

My god, man! What about the beer?

     Bottles only and the selection of 10 or so brews wasn’t great, but did have a few gems. (The website beer list is thankfully wrong.) I started with a Julius Echter Hefe-Weissbier Hell which at $9 was the most expensive beer on the menu (it’s also the biggest at 16-oz.). All the others were $6 for 12-oz. I’ve noticed the Julius Echter popping up at more and more places around town and am glad to see it. Don‘t be scared, “hell” is just German for light in reference to the beer’s color because they make a “dunkel” or dark hefe as well. Julius Echter may not be the best hefe out there, but it’s up there and I’m glad to get my hands on it when I can.

     Next up was Big Daddy IPA from Speak Easy Ales & Lagers in San Francisco; a brewery I wasn’t familiar with. I’m not a big fan of IPAs, however, I never know when I’ll find the one that will bring me over to the hop side and am always game for something new. Big Daddy had lots of grapefruit hoppiness, but it was still balanced and very drinkable. It didn’t exactly make me a convert, still I recommend it if you like IPAs and want something with more depth than Harpoon.

     I can’t clearly recall what other beers they had as I didn‘t take notes, though I’m pretty sure I saw Corona, Stella Artois, and Sam Adams in the fridges behind the bar. I do remember the barkeep saying they had run out of Cisco Brewers’ Sankaty Light which was a drag since I had been wanting to try it.

     The Lobby is a pretty cool place. It’s a bit on the spendy side so I couldn’t imagine going here all the time unless I get that promotion at work, but it’s definitely now in my rotation of post work watering holes that aren‘t packed wall-to-wall with Kate Spades and their Blue Shirt Boys. Their beer list didn’t exactly knock my socks off, but I have to give them props for having the few surprises they did. Yes, $6 (or worse $9) bottles suck; unfortunately this is the financial district so get used to it. Foodwise the appetizers my group had were tasty, though I can’t speak to the entrees. I say give The Lobby a shot with a very small group or maybe even an after work date if you are looking for something a little nicer than the norm.

Cheers! -John


BeerAdvocate’s American Craft Beer Fest- June 20 & 21- Boston

If you haven’t heard yet, get ready to get your beer on with BeerAdvocate right here in Boston.

     June 20 & 21 the BeerAdvocate crew are throwing down with the massive American Craft Beer Fest, the biggest BA fest yet. Their fests are always a good time with great beer, but now they are going big. You’ll find local favorites along with some amazing breweries that don’t get distribution here in New England and ACBF might be your only chance to sample their fantastic brews.

You’ll make new friends and drink new beers. Definite Win-Win situation right there.

But don’t take my word for it…

Don’t miss the American Craft Beer Fest (ACBF) this June 20 & 21 at
Boston’s Seaport World Trade Center featuring 75 American brewers and
over 300 craft beers!

Plus guest speaker panels and educational talks by Dave Lieberman
(Food Network / Here’s To Beer), Garrett Oliver (Brooklyn Brewery),
Rich Doyle (Harpoon Brewery), and Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head Craft

Tickets can be purchased from Ticket Alternative for only $40 per
session and includes beer tastings. Tickets are also a great Father’s
Day gift or an excuse (not that you need one) to gather your friends
and celebrate some amazing craft beers!

ACBF is brought to you by BeerAdvocate & Harpoon Brewery, and proudly
supported by Boston’s Weekly Dig, Here’s To Beer, Michelob Brewing
Company, and

For more info:

Cheers and hope to see you at ACBF!

Respect Beer.

Jason & Todd (Alström Bros)

There it is. You have been warned.
Buy a ticket. Enjoy.
Respect beer.

Cheers! –John


Norwegian Take On English Brown Ale [Bombers Away! #3]

Nøgne Ø Brown Ale (4.5% ABV bottle)- English Brown Ale- Nøgne Ø-det kompromissløse bryggeri, NOR

     Poured from a bomber into Siamsa Pub pint glass. [Truth be told this is more like a mini-bomber given it’s 50cl/16.9 oz size, but who’s counting.]

     Way darker brown than your average brown ale; almost black really. A half inch tan head from initial pour thins to barely a covering. Add to that fairly large bubbles from the carbonation and at first glance you could mistake this for a glass of Coke. There’s a nice earthy aroma with a hint of cocoa to it. It’s so enticing it makes up for the general cola appearance which may dissuade some folk. The overall body is a bit on the thin side and the carbonation is somewhat sharp, but neither of these factors are enough to really diminish the experience. The taste is full of gorgeous malt offering up bittersweet chocolate and some nice roasty, nutty notes. There is only a hint of hop bitterness at the end that cuts the sweet malt from getting to be too much.

     Nøgne Ø has kept things interesting yet simple with their English Brown Ale. There are a lot more flavors going on in here than what you tend to expect from a brown ale, but at the same time they are very controlled and never come over the top. This beer helps to dispel the idea that to be flavorful or complex a beer needs to be a double this, imperial that, or an alcohol bomb. At 4.5% ABV it’s ridiculously tasty and drinkable for the long haul; exactly what a session beer should be. A great little beer that is not trying to be in your face in any respect, but it should be in your fridge and preferably in your belly. Highly recommended as it is my current favorite go-to beer.

     If you are looking for it in Boston I’ve been getting my supply from Federal Wine & Spirits down on State Street, caddy-corner to the T stop. I love this tiny little place. It’s best known for its wine cellar and ridiculous array of scotch, but it also has a small yet fantastic selection of beers. Even though their website doesn’t mention beer they’ve got special/seasonal releases, big bottles, craft sixers, and some harder to get imports. Best of all their prices tend to be just a bit cheaper than most other downtown liquor stores.

Cheers! –John